The taxi ride to Hotel di Grandi hadn't been as unbearable as Dean expected. At least Sydney didn't make fun of him. Except, every time he looked in her eyes, he swore he saw laughter. He guessed if their roles had been reversed, he'd totally be gloating, so she was totally a 'bigger man' than him.
They'd passed some farmland and then they were in the city. The buildings were large, ornate and had more colors on them than he'd seen anywhere back home. There were lots of tourists on the sidewalks, some real narrow streets and lots of honking of horns.
The taxi driver's eyes kept wandering to Syd, and that meant the guy was turning to look at the back seat while he was freaking pressing on the gas pedal. "Dude!" Dean pointed to the front windshield, but was easily dismissed with an “eh, no problem.” She enjoyed that too, he could tell.
The hotel lobby looked like a museum, with marble floors and high ceilings, maybe two or three storied up, that were carved and gilded. "Not your typical Motel 6," he muttered, as they were given the keys and then headed to the elevator.
It was a little strange, the way the lobby was so huge, and their room could probably easily take in in four of any of the motel rooms he’d ever stayed in, and yet the elevators were smaller than any he’d ever seen. Then he walked into the bathroom and found it was as large as some motel rooms he'd been at. "Whoa, sunken tub. Room enough for two," he tossed out, as he explored the room, while she stood at the window looking like she wasn't surprised by any of this. "What?” He asked. “CIA has this big of a budget. Damn, now I know where my taxes would be going... if I paid them."
"What?" Absently, Sydney turned from the window as Dean's muttering pulled her from her thoughts. "Never mind," she waved her hand deciding he'd probably just made some crude comment designed to get her goat. He was good at that.
The agent's brow furrowed in concentration and she paced the length of the room as she mentally sifted through the update Vaughn had relayed when they were en route from the airport. They had the lead they'd been so hot to get, but so far it was a dead end.
"Alright, if you're not interested in what I have to say, then why don't you do some of the talking?" Dean went to the large bed and sat on the edge, then looked at her. "What did your man, Vaughn, have to say?" Vaughn. Bet he was a researcher type, with round glasses, pasty white skin from never seeing the sun, and uncomfortable when he was away from his little government issued cubicle.
"My handler," Sydney was quick to correct. "Not my man." No, Michael wasn't her man and never would be. He was Lauren's man now. Not that she was bitter about that. He'd thought she was dead. He'd had every right to move on. And so had she...
Lips pursed tightly, she paced back in the other direction, not making eye contact with Dean. "They got a name from Bill. Nothing about boogie men, though. I'll let you know if Dracula makes an appearance. We've got a team working on it," she said as if that were the end of it. She moved over to the walk-in closet that already housed her clothing for the gala.
"Huh. So... what's the name," Dean asked, checking out her curves but quickly looking up when she turned. He had a feeling this woman had eyes in the back of her head.
Sydney sighed, tilting her head in reprimand to Dean's roaming eyes. "Balthazar ," she said evenly. "That's who the Death Lords were working for. But somehow I don't think we're looking for one of the Three Wise Men." It was more likely someone associated with Sloan, but they hadn't established any connections yet. "Don't sweat it. Like I said, we're working on it."
"Are you working on looking at say..." he waved his hand in the air, "known vampire nests? Or, you know, magical artifact dealers?" He cocked his head, but knew what her answer would be. Even before she answered him he got up and retrieved his slightly beat up lap top from an extremely fancy leather brief case that the CIA team had shoved at him right before they'd gotten to airport security. "Look, I'm just saying, there's a reason you people even let me ride along, right? You got the FBI and the CIA databases and I got the 'everything else.'" Giving her a grin, he fired up the computer. "Don't you know how to relax?"
Syd’s brows popped with indigent surprise. "Vampire nests... magical... oh God," she groaned, knowing he was right. There was a reason they'd foisted a partner on her for this mission. "I know how to relax," she answered with a pronounced pout even as she continued her stiff, impatient pacing back and forth behind him. "Look, I seriously doubt--" she said stopping to look over his shoulder. "You know you can't just Google it. Eww. Gross. What is that?" she grimaced at the picture he pulled up of some kind of misshapen beast. "That's some seriously creative Photoshop, I'll give you that."
"Think so? I’ve got a couple scars that prove you wrong." He zoomed in, just to disgust here a little more, then moved onto a different site. "Balthazar... nah, these jokers are regular people," he said scrolling through a bunch of names. He started to narrow his searches down to vampires, his gaze moving back to her every once in a while. "No really, no pressure," he muttered, noticing the intensity of her stare. "You're worse than Sam is... was." He clicked through a few screens, his jaw tightening a little. "Bet you want to pull the lap top out of my hands already, cause you think you can find something faster."
"Well I could. You're all thumbs with that thing..." she said, finally settling down on the edge of the bed next to him. She'd felt him stiffen and saw his hard swallow as if tamping down a lump in his throat. "Sam?" she pressed gently. Michael had mentioned a deceased brother when he'd first briefed her about Dean's true identity. "Your brother?"
He gave her a sharp glance. "Did you guys look up what I eat and what I wear to bed?" Looking back at the screen, he kept working, but nodded. "Yeah. Brother. You got any? Brothers, sisters?" Deflecting. That was one way to make sure they moved into a safer area. "Irritating cousins, anything?"
"No," she shook her head. "I always wished for a sister..." she paused wistfully before giving another shake of her head. She wondered how things might have been different if Irina and Jack had had another child. Would it have made a difference? "But no. My parents aren't exactly... typical. Another kid would have complicated things for them even more." Sydney also knew both Dean's parents were deceased so she didn't bring them up. "And no, I don't know what you wear to bed. But I'd guess boxers over briefs," she said flashing a dimpled smile hoping to lighten the mood. "By the way, I assume you know how to dance. We'll need to blend in at the gala..."
He was glad when she moved on, but also sensed she had things she didn't want to talk about. Yeah he knew about complicated parents. "Good guess." He looked over at her. "Dance?" Making a face, he added. "Let's keep that to a minimum, as in none, if possible."
He didn't like the glint in her eyes, not even a little, but he had to admit her smile was deadly, it had to be because he was smiling back and getting the feeling he was signing his own death warrant. "Got a bad leg. Serious case of no rhythm. I'll make you look real bad." Every time he tossed out an excuse, her smile broadened. "You're gonna make my life miserable, aren't you?" Shaking his head, he looked at the monitor. "Let's try biblical references... makes sense, right? I mean with going to the Vatican."
"Biblical references, right..." she said with a slight roll of her eyes. As far as she was concerned, they were just killing time until they heard from Vaughn. "Come on, you are not going to embarrass me tonight." Sydney stood up and tugged at Dean's arm. "I'll just show you a few steps." She moved over to the CD player and put on some orchestral music. "Look," she tilted her head and gave him a look and held out her hands. "If you're going to play at the spy game, you've got to blend..."
He used the search function script that Sam had written, setting it to give an alarm tone after it scoured all biblical sources and gathered them in one place. Dropping the lap top onto the bed, he got up and walked toward her, putting his hand out to take hers. "Why do I get the feeling this is payback for kicking your ass?" He didn't add that it was a fine ass, or that he might have agreed to this readily because the thought of holding her in his arms was real appealing. They'd been having a damned good time before she'd pulled her spy tactics on him, but he wasn't about to hold a grudge. Not when he hadn't been this interested or felt as alive around a woman, in a long time. It wasn't all about how she looked either, though that was a big factor. It was more about the challenge, the fire, the excitement that she seemed to stir up in him, whether they were wrestling, kissing or sparring with words, trying to show each other who knew more, who would be the first to figure things out.
"Anybody who can fight like you, can dance like Fred Astaire," she laughed at the doubtful look he gave her. "Seriously," she moved in closer and positioned one hand around his back and held his other hand up. She bit her lower lip and looked down at their feet as his hand came to a firm rest at the small of her back. Forcing herself to focus, she looked back up and met his eyes.
"Okay. So you already know how to sense your opponent's moves three steps ahead, right? Dancing is no different," she started to move in a basic waltz and wasn't surprised when he glided easily keeping step as she led him around the room. "That's good..." she tilted her head and beamed up at him. "Now you lead. You just have to trust that I can anticipate where you're going."
It wasn't like he’ never had to dance, even in formal dress. He just hadn't done it in a long while, not since that high society event he'd had to go to with Bella. Then again, Sam had been the one who'd had the raw end of that deal. Thinking about it had him laughing at Sam’s discomfort, and missing the faces he made.
"Having tangled with you, I know
you can," Dean answered, letting her hand and rubbing his jaw meaningfully, before he spun her around. He knew he wasn't an elegant dancer, nor would he ever be. But she more than made up for his lack of grace and could made him 'look good.' "So, Agent Bristow, what makes a girl grow up and want to play ball for the CIA? Is it getting the bad guys, even when they're really the good guys?" Seeing the flash in her eyes, he continued in a more serious tone, "No really, I want to know."
Sydney's eyes softened and she lifted her shoulder in a shrug. "I guess I was attracted to the excitement of it all..." she said thinking back to that day when she'd first been approached about training. "At the time, I had no idea then that I'd been groomed for this my whole life..." the words were out before she realized what she'd just shared, but oddly, she didn't regret it. "I guess we have something in common after all," she angled her head and looked at him out of the corner of her eye as they moved together around the open area of the suite.
It was his turn to give her a hard look, at least initially. Sensing she meant it, that even if there was a world of difference between them, they had a common experience, a hell of a big one, he unbent a little and accepted what she said. "Family business?" He already knew her father was CIA so he didn't need her answer. "Did it help? Thinking it was your own choice?" It always came down to Sam. Dean had never had a choice, but Sam had tried. Later, Sam thought it was his choice to go back to hunting.
Blinking away the past, Dean searched her face, looking for answers and swallowing at the depth of emotion he saw in her eyes.
After a moment of thought, Sydney found herself nodding. "Yeah... I guess I liked thinking I was in control of my life. Now..." she tried to shrug off everything Irina and Jack had put her through, but frustration sparked in her eyes. "Now, I just don't know. Sometimes I feel like a pawn in my parents’ chess game." The truth of her words felt heavy, but speaking them aloud somehow lightened her load.
She drew in a cleansing breath and found herself drifting closer until their bodies touched. He was warm and she felt safe in his arms. And how the hell had that happened? He was practically the enemy. But right now... the way he was looking at her... not so much.
"How about you?" she asked. "You ever consider doing something different with your life? Accounting...? Airline pilot?" she teased lightly before catching his eyes and holding his gaze. "What do you think you'd be doing right now if you weren't chasing monsters?"
"You ask complicated questions." And yet he wanted to answer her, wanted to give a piece of himself. A truth. "I've played a lot of parts. FBI, CIA, exterminator, fireman, desk jockey," he gave a wince. "But once I dreamed I was a mechanic. Regular life, nine to five, girlfriend, the whole nine yards. "Turned out I was drugged and being bled to death and that it was an induced dream, so I wouldn't fight the bleeding." He gave a sniff, "story of my life. It's not good, it's not bad, it just is... you know?"
Tightening his hold on her for a moment, he missed a step, then recovered. "Truth is, if I weren't out there hunting monsters, I'd be drinking myself to death and thinking about hunting, or feeling guilty about not hunting." There was a silence, but it wasn't awkward, not like he'd expected. He didn't even realize he was doing it, but he rested his forehead against hers, slightly to the side, and continued to step in time with the music, forgetting how much he hated to dance.
Instinctively, the agent closed her eyes and relaxed against him as she listened to the cadence of his voice and steady beat of his heart. But instead of assessing the authenticity of his story like her training should have dictated, she found herself connecting on an emotional level -- beginning to understand him in an entirely new light. He'd endured horrors because of a life he didn't choose, but had a solid sense of who he was. Underneath all that cocky bravado there was a man with depth and complex motivations. He'd let down his guard to allow her a glimpse of his inner truth and in turn, her own defenses were starting to crumble
When he fell silent, Sydney's hand moved to Dean's chest and she drew back to look into fathomless green eyes. They were barely moving now as the pounding of her heart drowned out the music. Full red lips parted as if she were about to speak, but there were no words to express what she was feeling in that moment.
He didn't see sympathy or disbelief in her eyes. He wasn't sure it was acceptance, either, but at gut level, it felt like for one moment in time, the layers of masks upon masks and games of pretend, dropped away. He could see clear to her soul and it was a distorted reflection of himself. Words were inadequate. Sometimes they tripped you or fucked things up. No way he was risking it.
Sliding his hands up her body, he gently gripped her upper arms and leaned in, slanting his mouth over hers. His eyes closed as he gave her long, lingering kiss. He'd barely moved against her and hadn't invaded her mouth with his tongue, yet his blood was catching fire. She was potent, and dangerous, and just what he needed. Just what he wanted right now.
Sydney was accustomed to being in complete control when she was on the job, but the tender brush of Dean's lips was her complete undoing. Abandoning her double-agent persona, she kissed him back, shy and almost tentative at first -- as if she were afraid to acknowledge that he'd sparked the fire that had been quietly smoldering since she'd first laid eyes on him.
Pulling slightly back, he locked gazes with her for a fraction of a moment, then dipped his head down and kissed his way up her throat as she tilted her head back. Sweeping his lips over the contours of her chin, he sought out the heat of her mouth again, this time pushing his tongue past her teeth and tangling it with hers in a dance that was neither competition nor war.
In stark contrast to her mastery of playing the seductress, Sydney was downright modest when it came down to her own personal virtues. Still, even as Dean took her breath away, she boldly moved her hand to the back of his head to deepen the kiss, surrendering to the sensations his touch ignited. As he pulled her closer, she was jolted back to awareness by an alarm sounding from laptop on the bed behind them.
Breaking the kiss and instantly on alert, Sydney spun to see the screen flashing the search results from the query Dean had run. Danger reflex was quickly replaced by embarrassment with the realization of what she'd almost done. "I-I'm sorry," she stammered, cheeks blooming to bright crimson revealing a bashful side rarely seen by those outside of her closest circle of friends. "I didn't mean to do... that was unprofessional."
"No apologies needed. As far as I'm concerned, you can be unprofessional
with me anytime you like," he answered with an amused grin as he tried to work out how someone with the nerve to perform a pole dance in front of a rough audience and who didn't blink at using her sex appeal as a weapon could get this flustered by just a kiss. Her reaction was real though, and that was part of the reason he didn't tease her more.
Pronounced dimples bracketed her mouth as she tried to suppress the smile his offer elicited. She was grateful he didn't make a big deal out of it and was impressed at how easily he was able to shift right back into the work. If she hadn't seen that glimpse behind the curtain of bravado, Sydney might have thought he'd just brushed it off as just another conquest interrupted, but she sensed the kiss had meant something to him too.
Picking the lap top up off the bed, Dean brought it to the desk so they could both easily look at the screen as he started to scroll down the results from his specially designated sites. Slowing down on a couple possibilities and noting them, he suddenly enlarged the picture and text on the screen and dropped down to sit on a chair. "Sonovabitch."
"What?" she leaned closer to read the caption under the illustration that looked as if it had been scanned from an ancient text. "Balthazar?" she read the name. She straightened and turned to Dean, her eyes unconsciously dropping to his mouth and tracing the shape of his lips. Suddenly acutely aware of how close she was, she quickly shifted her focus back to the laptop as she edged out of his personal space and took a deep breath. She never should have kissed him. He was a distraction now... a liability. This was bad.
"Says he's an angel," she said with sturdy resolve. "I thought you specialized in demons. You think he has something to do with the spear?"
"Sometimes the line between angels and demons..." he grit his teeth and looked up at her. "Lucifer. Satan, whatever you want to call him, he was one of the angels before he was thrown out and became the king of hell, so to speak." She probably wouldn't believe half the things he told her, but he wanted her to. It shouldn't matter whether she thought he was a nut job or not, and he hadn't cared just a day ago.
"About eight months ago, you remember the news being full of disasters? Volcanoes erupting, earthquakes, whole towns disappearing, rivers turning to blood, people dying of unknown diseases, that kind of thing?" He drew in a breath. "That was...it came down to the last fight between good and evil. It was the start of the apocalypse, and yeah, I do mean 'end of the world' stuff. Angels were involved, demons, us," he gave a small shrug. "I guess we won." He looked away, then down. "Anyway, haven't seen or heard from any angels since then. Figured they were done with whatever they thought needed doing but this... Balthazar, it doesn't give me any warm fuzzy feelings, the fact that an angel might be involved."
Sydney' brow furrowed as she pulled her fingers through her hair. "Wait. So you're saying heaven and hell..." she looked at Dean and saw he wasn't kidding around. "Right. Okay. Heaven and Hell - not just biblical metaphors then? Right..." she nodded, forcing herself to expand her thinking. She paused thoughtfully, tilting her head as she looked at the image of the angel on the monitor. Fallen Angel. Something clicked.
"So... if the Apocalypse is real too... then that means the Four Horsemen... and... hey. This is going to sound crazy..." As Sydney grew more animated, she closed the distance she'd deliberately created between herself and Dean. "Okay, well, maybe not crazy to you. But, have you ever heard of Milo Rambaldi? He was this genius inventor. Some people say he was a prophet like Nostradamus..." she paused, holding her breath as she decided how much to tell him.
He'd hoped that she wouldn't laugh, but this he hadn't foreseen. It was clear she did believe and even knew a little about what he was talking about. "Can't say I have but if you've got something..." He leaned back slightly, so he could look up into her face instead of inappropriate areas that might get his ass kicked.
"Maybe..." she bit her lower lip, searching her memory for something that was hanging just out of reach. "I don't know. Might be nothing. But there was this one prophecy... I always got the impression it was referring to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Of course I never considered it was a literal interpretation since Rambaldi was so big into cryptology. But maybe... let's see. It goes 'When blood-red horses wander the streets and angels fall from the sky, the Chosen One
and the Passenger
will clash... and only one will survive.'"
Sydney paused, mentally dismissing the notion that she was the Chosen One as both her father and Sloan seemed to think. "SD-6 seems to think the spear is one of Rambaldi's artifacts - or at least related somehow." She shrugged a little sheepishly. "What do you think?"
Dean literally flinched at what she called a prophesy. "Pretty much that," he said quietly, getting up and walking around her to sit on the edge of the desk.
"SD-6, is that a department? What do they have on the spear? Are you saying this Rambaldi created it, that it wasn't actually used during the crucification? What time period are we talking about with this Rambaldi dude?" He tried to keep his voice even but his mind was in a turmoil. Someone had predicted what would happen to Sam? He'd been Lucifer's chosen one, and Lucifer had been his passenger. He had no idea what the prophesy meant when it stated one of them survived
, could it mean one of them... Sam or Lucifer... would be brought back? Or that Sam was gone. Dead, both body and soul.
The look of torment that tore across Dean's features at the mention of the prophecy erased all doubts about telling him about SD-6. She'd obviously touched on something very personal. If he was somehow caught up in all of this, he had a right to know. "SD-6 is an underground criminal organization. Deep
underground," she emphasized. "It was founded by a former CIA counterintelligence officer."
How could she possibly help him understand what he'd gotten himself into? Searching his eyes for understanding, Sydney spoke with quiet earnest. "You know those volcanoes and rivers of blood you were talking about? Well, you remember the Bangalore carbon proxy disaster in 1992 that killed three thousand innocent people in India? It wasn't an accidental methyl isocyanate leak at the manufacturer plant. And in 1996, the Japanese bullet train that accidentally
switched tracks and derailed... not so accidental. Chernobyl..." she sighed. "Well, you get the picture. That was all SD-6 to further their power."
Before she spoke again, Sydney's eyes flashed with determination. "I'm a double-agent. SD-6 thinks I work for them. CIA is trying to take them down. I will
take them down." She knew she hadn't answered his questions, but for some reason it was important to her that he understand why she was doing what she was doing.
"Double agent." He ran his hand over his face. "It only gets more complicated, doesn't it?" Searching her eyes, he gave a nod. "SD-6, they know about this Rambaldi guy, about the spear, maybe other things... artifacts you called them. Anyone who wants power would be after the spear. Bad guys.” He licked his lips. “Looks like we're in the same line of business, after all, Detective Bristow. How about I help you take down this SD-6 of yours, and you help me get the spear. I keep the spear," he clarified, locking gazes with her.
If Sydney was startled by the proposal, it didn't show on her features as her brown eyes clashed with green. "Why? What do you
plan to do with it?"
He stared right back at her for a long moment, a muscle in his jaw throbbing. "I'm gonna get my brother back. Lucifer is the passenger. He was riding Sam's body when Sam... Sam jumped into a cage that Lucifer can't get out of. My brother is trapped in that hell with him. Not for a lifetime. Not for ten or a hundred lifetimes. Forever.
I can't let that happen. I won't. I think the spear can bring him back, can make that prophesy you just told me come true. Doesn't it make sense, in some crazy, twisted, fucked up way? You need to get it away from SD-6, I need it to get Sam, we run into each other. Maybe you're supposed to help me. Maybe it's your destiny." No, he didn't believe in destiny, but he spoke the words with conviction. They were the right words, for the right time.
Sydney took a step back as if retreating from the flood of information that lapped at her feet and threatened to drag her under. "Lucifer? As in... the Devil? Was riding... Oh God..." the agent shook her head as she mentally sifted through all the facts in the context of her new insights into the supernatural.
Slowly the shake of her head turned to a nod as she brought her eyes back to Dean. "Yes. I guess it does make sense in some crazy, twisted effed-up way," she said in echo of his conclusion. Again she scrubbed her hand through her tousled brunette locks. "Okay. Yeah. If it can get your brother back and we keep it out of the hands of SD-6..." she nodded again, jaw set in firm resolve as she looked at him. "Maybe it's destiny."
"First class plane tickets, now first class cars... this is an eye opener on government," Dean said as he negotiated the narrow road and turned on a dime before the cross traffic made it into the intersection. The concierge at the hotel had arranged for the Mercedes rental to be brought to the hotel and had reminded Dean that "in Italy, you have to drive aggressively." Like he hadn't noticed on the ride from the airport to the hotel. Still, he'd take his chances on the road a lot quicker than in the air. Just thinking about that flight almost had him break out in a sweat.
At the next light, he glanced over at Sydney, his lips curving into a smile as his gaze roved up her creamy thigh. The long, candy red silk dress she wore, had a deep slit over one thigh, clung to her curves and surprisingly covered her all the way to her neck. Earlier, when he'd raised his brows when she was getting dressed, she'd said the gold embroidered stand up collar was an Asian inspired neckline. He really hadn't been looking for that kind of detail on style and she knew it, but once she'd pulled the dress on and the silk fell against her body, he had to admit his breath had caught in his chest and he'd wanted to pull her close, run his hands over her bare arms and see if he could get her to agree to be late to the party. She could read right through him, though, and right there, that ‘all-business’ look had entered her eyes and he'd known better than to try to distract her.
Didn't mean he couldn't admire her looks, or notice the looks she was drawing from men in other cars. It might all be fake, but he did feel like a damned lucky guy right now. It was a feeling he'd lost for a long time.
"Stop practicing your sexpionage on that kid... it's not age appropriate," Dean tossed, knowing full well she hadn't encouraged the teenager to gesture and shout he loved her. "Amore my ass....
," he muttered, scowling at the kid.
Once they entered Vatican City, the navigation system alerted them in cultured tones to turn once again. There it was, the Palazzo di Cardinal Raphael. They drove through an open elaborate gate and slowed down behind luxury cars making their way around the large driveway in the courtyard of the ancient palace. The front of the building was lined with thick pillars, behind it the walls were white and coral marble in various patterns. "In my next life, remind me to go for a government job, or to be a priest." His gaze flicked to a group of robed men walking into the building, together with people who'd just come out of the Ferrari in front of the building right before the valet took the vehicle away.
"A priest? Really?" Sydney gave him a speculative look. "I'm pretty sure that would go against the laws of natural selection and
intelligent design," she smirked before her expression turned more serious. "Now come on. Focus. We don't want to draw any unnecessary attention. We've got a lot riding on this..." His brother. Was there really a chance? True resurrection? Was this the secret Sloan was hell-bent on unlocking?
He gave her a nod as they drove up to the front of the building and stopped. "Show time."
Two valets approached, opening each of their doors and giving Dean a ticket. He slipped it into the inside pocket of his tux, put his hand on Sydney's back and started to walk with her over the red carpet and into the building. It was a big fundraising event and there were socialites and big wigs. Dean didn't really recognize them, but knew them for what they were for. He gave their event tickets to a suited man that was collecting them, and then they were allowed into the reception room, or the ballroom of the palace.
The room was enormous, the ceilings so high that the large paintings and ornate molding looked like they belonged there and didn't look the least bit gaudy. "Guess that's one thing The Venetian’s got wrong." At her look, he explained. "The Venetian... you know, hotel in Vegas. Never liked all the gold and paintings on the ceilings there. Kind of crowded you.... never mind."
There was an orchestra in one corner of the room. Drinks and appetizers were being circulated and Dean couldn't let a tray go by without grabbing and stuffing his mouth. "Mmm, these are the best puff pastry things I've never had before," he said, not recognizing the taste. His gaze skimmed over the clusters of people talking and schmoozing, and the robed priests, looking more closely at the ones in red, trying to find Cardinal Pietro.
The double-agent's gaze broke from her instinctual visual assessment of their surroundings to take in the sight of Dean scarfing down finger foods like he hadn't eaten in days. She rolled her eyes and looped her arm through his before he could accost the next server. She had to admit that he looked damn good in the tuxedo, but truth be told, as much as she loved the excitement of her job, she'd much rather be curled up on an old couch eating pizza and watching Casablanca. Maybe once this was all done...
Sydney's mind wandered for a moment before Dean's elbow brought her back to the mission. Her eyes followed his across the dance floor to a tall man in a robe who fit the Cardinal's basic description, but it wasn't until he turned toward them that she was able to make visual confirmation. "That's him. Let's go." She started to move toward him when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Turning, she found herself face to face with someone she recognized all too well. "Sark," she hissed, her entire body tensing. "What are you doing here?"
"A pleasure to see you as well, Miss Bristow," Julian Sark answered with a honeyed English accent as he took her hand and kissed it.
Sydney jerked her hand away, but when she saw they were drawing looks, she schooled her features and forced a smile. "What do you want?" she said quietly.
"I'd very much like a dance," he answered with a pointed look to the ape on her arm. "So we can speak privately."
Dean didn't know what was going on between the two of them, but he instantly disliked the guy. Besides, she didn't seem to be happy to see him either. "If you wanted to dance, you should have brought your own date. If you've got something to talk about, then talk. I'm not listening. I'm sorta hard of hearing."
The slightest hint of a smirk pulled at the corner of Sydney's mouth before she clamped down on it and turned a steely expression on Sark. As much as she loathed the idea of dealing with the man, his presence here was no coincidence. He knew something about the spear and she needed to know what.
Touching Dean's hand on her arm, Sydney looked up at him through thick lashes. "It's okay. I'll just be a minute." Then back to Sark, she raised her chin and leveled him with a no-nonsense glare. "You have exactly one dance."
"I'll be watching, and there's nothing wrong with my eyes," Dean said a little broodily. He wasn't thrilled with this, but playing it out in his mind, he knew there was no way he could stop her from going on that dance floor with creepy-smarmy guy.
"Your agency must be... hard up, judging by the new recruits," Sark said in a silky tone, completely ignoring Dean's existence as he swept Sidney onto the dance floor, taking her into his arms and expertly maneuvering her between the other dancers.
"Just get to the point," Sydney said as she fell easily into step with his graceful movements. At least he didn't know about Dean, or if he did, he was playing it close to the vest. "Who are you working for?" It was a pointless question, really. Julian Sark was a man of notoriously flexible loyalties and worked only for his own self-interest. Still, it seemed like a good place to start.
"Always straight to the point. Why don't you loosen up?" He moved his hand lower down her back, part of his palm resting intimately on her firm ass. "Enjoy the perks when you get them." His gaze swept over the crowd, then came back to meet hers. "At least smile or they'll think this is an inquisition instead of a friendly dance."
Sydney constructed a tight smile as her hand lowered to his arm to force it up to her lower back as he guided her around the floor. The man was too smooth for his own good and she wasn't about to let her guard down for a moment. "I would hardly consider this a perk. Now what do you want. You're wasting my time."
"Well, if you want to get down to business... I want your blood." He studied her face.
Caught in a rare moment of surprise, Sydney blinked and her entire body tensed in response to the memory of the Death Lord that had suddenly sprouted three rows of teeth with the intent of feeding on her blood. She quickly realized it was ridiculous to think Sark was a vampire and she schooled her features to ask the obvious question. "Why?"
"Because the evil overlord I made the mistake of dealing with wants it. Exactly two vials." He let that sink in. "And you know why he wants it, or you wouldn't be here yourself. Now how close are you to finding it?" Seeing her mouth flatten into a straight line, Sark tightened his grip on her. "Listen to me. We're on the same side here, I don't want him to get it or your blood. I want him off my tail. Only way that's going to happen is if you find it, or I give him what he wants. One of those two things will
happen. Which is it going to be?"
Sydney wasn't foolish enough to believe Sark was on anybody's side but his own, however his claim did have a ring of truth. He wouldn't hesitate to switch allegiances to save his own skin. "Apparently your intel is better than mine or your evil overlord is yanking your chain," the agent moved her hand up his arm as she lifted her eyes to meet his. "Tell me what my blood has to do with the spear or you're on your own."
"You really don't know?" A calculating look entered his eyes. "What..." Using one finger, he brushed her hair back from her forehead, "is that information worth to you?"
Sydney ducked away from his finger and gave him a sharp look. "As it stands, your currency has no value. For all I know, you're making this up. Tell me what you know and then we'll talk."
"Why are you always so difficult," he said almost petulantly. "Fine. The people I'm dealing with want a spear. The spear
, and I know you know what I'm talking about," he said pointedly. "The things the spear can do, the power it wields... I don't know whether to believe in it, but I can say the people after it have no need for more power." He gave a shudder, tightened his grip on her and twirled her around the dance floor. "Your friend has an attitude problem," he tossed out as they passed Dean, turning her around so her back was to her glaring partner.
"Where was I, yes the spear. I was told your blood is needed to make it work." He gave an elegant shrug. "It doesn't matter that it’s a ridiculous notion, what matters is that they believe it's real. They have the manpower and resources to get it from..." he nodded toward a group of red clad cardinals. "And once they have it, you come into play. There, I've told you everything. Satisfied?"
Sydney's mind whirled through the information, her brows furrowed in concentration until Sark stopped talking. "My blood... that is
ridiculous, but you're right, it doesn't matter if that's what they think." The agent had no idea what would possess them to think her blood had anything to do with anything, but she couldn't puzzle out a reason for Sark to make that up. "If they have the means to get the spear, surely they don't need you to get my blood. Why send you after me?" She tilted her head and looked up at him. "Not like I'm defenseless to your charm..." she flashed a dimpled smile.
"Something about professional courtesy and not getting Castiel... whoever that is... up in arms. You have a protector." Seeing her blank look, he shook his head. "When do you ever know who you're actually
working for? Anyway, that's the reason himself
is not dealing with you directly." His eyes darted around the room. "What do you, or this Castiel, want with it?"
The double-agent had no idea who Castiel was, but her expression hinted at the opposite. She didn't need Sark to have any more leverage than he did. "If your stake in the game is to get this evil overlord
off your back, then you don't need to know the answer to that." She moved her hips and adjusted her step sidle up a little closer. "But if you want to guarantee that I have the winning hand, you'll need to show me your cards." Her eyes slid to the cardinals and then back to fix on Sark's striking blue gaze. "How do we get ahead of them?"
"Clever, not that I ever doubted it." If he didn't think Sydney could be a step ahead of Balthazar, he'd never bet on her getting the upper hand over his temporary employer. "You're wasting your time here. It's not here, the spear. It's a fake. You have to find the real one and... l'll be stealing the fake one." Seeing sparks of disbelief shooting out of her eyes, he gave her a wounded look. "Tomorrow. I have obtained permission for a viewing tomorrow and I’ll take it then. That gives you tonight, but you'll be wasting precious time having a look, see, at it tonight. Instead, find out where the real spear is and get it before Bal... before himself
gets it first.” He assumed she’d leave the spear alone once she confirmed it wasn’t real. “Then, when the spear I take him turns out to be a fake, I'll be off the hook because it'll be too late, you and your Castiel will have it. My bargain will have been met." He'd agreed to steal the item and get her blood, the latter would no longer be necessary if the real spear never made it to Balthazar and his low class bike riding gang of thugs. He'd met the man over champagne at an exclusive casino in Monte Carlo. He'd never have guessed that the man mixed with certain elements, nor that the man had eyes everywhere and resources that seemed to rival that of several governments Sark dealt with.
Sydney's eyes flashed with recognition when he'd started to reveal the name of his employer, Balthazar. And while she still didn't entirely trust Sark's motives, she believed it was currently in his best interests for her to locate the true artifact. It was entirely possible that he was just trying to get her to do his dirty work, but they could cross that bridge when they came to it. "Alright," she agreed with a slight nod and glance over to Dean. She didn't like involving a civilian in whatever Sark might have up his sleeve, but somehow she knew Dean was more than equipped to handle it.
"And now if you'll excuse me," Sydney said in a cultured accent, mouth pulled into a coy smile. "I've got a job to do."
"Of course. Or else I'll see you in a few days," he said, dipping his head and stealing a kiss where she could do nothing about it. "Buona notte, bella."
Arms crossed, Dean waited for her to approach. "You don't recognize your own techniques? Seriously?" he demanded, not thrilled by her high color and wondering whether she fell for whatever the guy's line had been.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Sydney answered, dimples serving as accents that punctuated the fresh flush of her cheeks when she saw that Dean actually appeared to be jealous. "Besides, for the price of a dance and that kiss he stole, I got new intel and that's all that matters. We need to verify it, of course, but I think it's legit."
Dean made a decidedly grumpy sound, but leaned in to listen. Wanting to think the worst of Sark, he asked, "and what makes you think he's not sending you on a wild goose chase so he can get at the spear himself."
"Because he's not sending us anywhere," she answered with a one-shouldered shrug, acutely aware of how close Dean's face was to her lips and how good he smelled. Focus.
"He says the spear they have here is a fake and if that's true, we're basically back to square one unless we find another lead. I'm pretty sure he's working for Balthazar and is looking to get out from under his thumb, so he's giving us a day's head start so we can beat him to it. Normally I'd be more suspicious, but Sark doesn't really like to be anybody's lackey and it sounds like this angel of yours - if that's really what he is - has him over a barrel. He mentioned someone named Castiel..." she turned her head to look at Dean. "Ring any bells?"
"Cas? Yeah, I know him. Fought on the same side. After we caged Lucifer, I guess he was finished with playing on our team." He gave a shrug and tried to hide his bitterness. "He's an angel. Better than the others, at least he was for a while." It had taken Dean a long while to give up on Castiel, but after calling on him again and again, asking for help with Sam, he'd quit trying. "Must have better things to do in heaven and can't be bothered with us humans anymore." He cocked his head, " is that all he said about Cas?"
"Not really," Sydney thought back to the conversation. "I think he knows who you are though, since he seems to think you're working for Castiel." She eyed him carefully. "You aren't... are you?"
"I told you, I haven't seen him. And before you ask, no, I never worked for
him." Her gaze held his, like she didn't believe him. "Look, I told you, we worked together. Everyone was against us, heaven, hell, you name it. They were all hot for an apocalypse, people be damned. Castiel stepped up to the plate and fought with us, chose our side... the human side, then when it was over, he took off. It's the truth," he said, "all of it."
Sensing the anger and hurt in his voice, Sydney's eyes softened and she touched his arm. It all came back to his brother. "I believe you," she said almost apologetically. She knew she'd touched a raw nerve and she wanted to soothe it over. "We'll find the spear... we'll get your brother back," she said meeting his gaze with heartfelt promise in her eyes.
He gave her a tight lipped nod. "Who needs angels, right?" The pure determination in her sparkling eyes eased his tension. Putting his hand on the small of her back, he started to guide her through the crowd. "The guys in red seem to hang together," he said nodding at a group of cardinals in their red robes. ”It’s nice. They add color.”
After searching their faces, he tapped one of the Cardinals on the shoulder.
"Si?" The man turned around.
"Sorry, wrong guy." Without explaining further, Dean moved away. "This father Pietro is gonna be harder to find than I thought. They all look alike..."
With a sigh, Sydney hung back and drew the cardinal's attention, speaking in fluent Italian to ask about Father Pietro. Within moments, he was escorting them through the crowd and introducing them as Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, American archaeologists. Making with the proper formalities, the agent greeted the cardinal.
"Come può essere?!" The father exclaimed in surprise when his eyes landed on Dean. "Pardon me. Ehh... yes. In English," he shook his head, his eyes fixed on Dean as if he'd seen a ghost. "But... how can it be?"
Sydney knew that Vaughn had paved the way for their visit to the archives by explaining to the cardinal that they were an important research team and had somehow pulled the right strings to get them a viewing of the Spear of Longinus. But she hadn't expected that they would have provided photo identification so that fact that the Father seemed to recognize Dean took her by surprise. Recognizing that it was possible he knew Dean from his previous... activities, Sydney braced herself and prepared to improvise.
"I'm sorry Father. What do you mean? How can what
be?" Sydney asked politely.
With some effort, Father Pietro pulled his eyes from Dean. "He... he is L'uomo scelto."
Dean just barely managed to rein in his ‘what the fuck is that?’
Sydney's brows pulled into a frown. "The Chosen?"
"Si, si," he nodded enthusiastically. "I have studied the pages. I would know that face in my dreams."
Turning to Dean, Sydney arched a questioning brow. "Something you forgot to mention...?"
"No... no way he's dreaming about me," Dean raised his hands up as if seeking protection from that thought. "I thought they did the whole celibac-- Oww," he glared at Syd, his shin throbbing from her excellent aim.
Sydney sighed and turned back to the cardinal. "Can you explain what you mean, Father?"
The cardinal looked like he was trying to find the words, ultimately shaking his head in exasperation. "Come... come with me." He nodded to the two Americans and guided them out of the main reception area and into an anti-chamber.
"For a little guy, he sure walks fast," Dean said, earning a jab of her elbow in his side. "What? It's not like he's got super sharp ears," he complained as they rushed after the man who took them through several interconnected rooms. Then they were in a large library surrounded by walls of books on shelves that went all the way up to the very high ceilings painted with images of angels and biblical scenes. Well, one thing Dean was glad about was that he wasn't a book-shelver for these guys.
The priest went to the ornate marble fireplace and touched a statue on the mantle. They turned toward the creaking sound coming from behind them. A wall of books shifted out of the way.
"This way," Father Pietro told them, stepping into the hidden passage, turning the light on and starting down a narrow spiral staircase.
"Like that's not cliché.'"
She shouldn't really be surprised, but Sydney had to admit this all seemed pretty cloak and dagger for the Vatican. Maybe the Da Vinci Code wasn't so much fiction after all. With a slight shrug, she tilted her head at him. "You're the Chosen One. How cliché is that
?" she pointed out before starting down the stairs after him. She hadn't yet told Dean that she'd been given the very same title by Rambaldi himself, making it even that more cliché. And weird.
"Unless we're talking the lottery, I wish somebody up there would stop choosing me," he muttered, meaning every word. "Watch out for trap doors. There are always trap doors in places like this," he said authoritatively, then added, "at least in the movies. Ever seen ‘The Mummy? How about...."